Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which again fell to a new market share low last month, is on a pace of decline that will push the once overwhelming dominant browser under 50% by this time in 2011, according to new Web usage data.
IE lost 0.7 of a percentage point to end April with a 66.1% share of the browser market, another new low as pegged by metrics vendor Net Applications Inc., which started tracking browsers in 2005.
As in March, the April gains by IE8, which launched that month, where not enough to stem the slide of the browser's overall share. While IE8 boosted its share by 2.2 percentage points, IE7 lost 2 points and the creaking IE6 lost 0.8 percent point.
"Is there an end to IE's decline?" asked Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of marketing for Net Applications. "I don't know. I never thought they would drop this far."
Although IE8's gains originally came almost entirely at the expense of IE7, Net Applications' April data shows that IE6 users are also starting to upgrade: The older browser's 0.8 percentage point loss last month was higher than the 0.6 point drop the month before.
Microsoft recently started offering IE8 to IE6 and IE7 users via Automatic Updates, a factor that may have played a part in the accelerated decline of the older browsers and the uptick in IE8.
As usual, rival browsers picked up IE's losses. Mozilla's Firefox, for example, increased its share by 0.4 of a percentage point to end the month with 22.5%, while Google's Chrome climbed 0.2 of a percentage point to 1.4%. Apple's Safari, however, missed out on the action, and slipped 0.02 of a percentage point to 8.2%.
"IE had such a huge market advantage, and Firefox, in a competitive environment, continues to gain share," said Vizzaccaro. "We've seen some seasonal flux [to Firefox's share], but now it's just continuing to go on an upward trend."
Over the last 12 months, Firefox has gained an average 0.4 percentage point per month; if it keeps to that trajectory, the open-source browser will crack its next major milestone of 25% by the end of November.
IE, on the other hand, has been losing an average of 0.7 percentage point per month over the last 12 months. Unless Microsoft is able to stanch the bleeding, IE will lose its majority status and fall under 50% sometime in May 2011.
Google's Chrome also caught Vizzaccaro's eye. The browser, which remains a Windows-only application, had its biggest increase since last December. "We've seen Google putting ads [for Chrome] on its search page, and this play on marketing has given it a nice little bump," said Vizzaccaro. "But I don't know if that kind of increase is sustainable."
What would make Chrome a stronger rival for the likes of Firefox and Safari, he said, is if Google struck deals with computer makers to install the browser on new PCs. "That would make a huge impact," Vizzaccaro predicted. "Until that happens, though, I don't see Chrome making any big gains."
Net Applications measures browser usage by tracking the computers that visit the 40,000-some sites it monitors for its clients. The April browser data is available on its own site.